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News / Northwest

Driver tried to get WA troopers to shoot him on I-82. ‘You were selfish,’ says judge

By Cameron Probert, Tri-City Herald
Published: April 10, 2024, 7:41am

PASCO — A Pasco man will serve more than a decade in prison for shooting at Washington State Patrol troopers on Interstate 82.

A year before his confrontation on the highway west of Tri-Cities, Melvin Brown, 63, devised a suicide plan to get officers to kill him.

When the troopers wouldn’t cooperate, he fired first.

Judge Jackie Stam told Brown on Monday that no matter what struggles he was going through, there was no excuse for putting other people in danger.

“You were selfish,” she told him during a sentencing hearing in Benton County Superior Court. “You had this plan. You went forward with this plan, but your argument to this court is that your mental health should take precedence over everything else that you did.”

Brown, who previously pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree assault, faced 9 to 12 years in prison for the crimes.

Deputy Prosecutor Taylor Clark asked of a sentence in the high end of the range, saying Brown presents a threat to the community. She said it was only by luck that no one was hurt when he opened fire.

“The defendant’s concern wasn’t with how his actions were going to affect other people, it was only with getting what he wanted,” she said.

She suggested he might take more drastic steps in the future if he doesn’t face a lengthy sentence now.

But Defense Attorney Brian Hultgrenn argued Brown is different than a normal person charged with assault and asked for a three-year prison term.

“He didn’t chose this, Judge. It wasn’t his choice to be mentally ill,” Hultgrenn said. “It is important that Melvin is different. He isn’t a life-long criminal. We’re here because of his mental illness.”

Brown has struggled with depression for decades and this was his first time ever to be trouble with the law, he said.

Brown presented an exhaustive history of his mental health struggles, and apologized to the troopers.

“I had no intent to harm anyone,” he said. “There were 12 seconds that things could have gone terrible. It’s quite possible I could have taken a life in that moment.”

Mental health struggles

Brown began to struggle with depression in his late 30s, when he tried the first time to die by suicide, according to a memo filed by his attorney. While he was able to stabilize his life, things took a turn for the worse in 2013.

He was in a near constant state of crisis and had two stays at mental health facilities and tried to die at least one more time.

His first thoughts of engaging with police came in 2017 when his depression nearly overwhelmed him again. He brought a gun to a Kennewick park with plans to end his life. His then wife called police to search for him, and he returned home.

When officers talked to him outside his home, he considered pointing the gun at them to get them to shoot him, said court documents.

He received treatment, but in May 2023 he was feeling “extremely depressed and alone.”

“After thinking about suicide for several days, he decided that he needed help to commit suicide and decided he would attempt to get a law enforcement officer to shoot him,” Hultgrenn wrote.

Brown picked out the location along I-82 because it had high embankments to stop bullets veering into neighborhoods behind him.

He drove to that section of the highway and called 911 at 5:50 a.m. to say he needed an officer.

Interstate 82 shooting

Brown told emergency dispatchers he “may have taken too much medication” and had no weapons, Deputy Prosecutor Taylor Clark wrote.

When the dispatcher asked if he needed an ambulance, he said, “I suppose, but I want to see a trooper first.”

WSP Trooper Corey Litchfield was the first officer to arrive. He parked behind Brown and saw him standing with a gun in his hand. The trooper drew his gun and for the next five minutes, Litchfield tried to get Brown to drop the weapon.

Trooper Dedrick Jolliff arrived and parked so his vehicle was partially blocking one of the highway lanes, and he got out with his rifle.

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“(The) defendant began walking toward Trooper Litchfield, raised his arm pointing the firearm at Trooper Litchfield and fired multiple shots,” Clark wrote.

Litchfield fired back, but no one was hit. Investigators found three spent shell casings where Brown had been standing.

Brown was arrested and taken to the Benton County jail.

Inside of Brown’s vehicle, police found a two suicide notes. One addressed to the troopers and one to his brother.